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What: Jason Sosa vs. Haskell Lydell Rhodes, Junior Lightweights
When: Aug. 10
How to Watch: ESPN Plus 10 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: To see if a couple guys who didn’t grow up dreaming of boxing glory can take the main event stage, win and work towards a title shot.
Remember Sosa? He was the former pizza cook/WBA Super Featherweight Champion that Vasiliy Lomachenko thoroughly dominated, and mocked as he was doing it (which Columbia grad Max Kellerman wrongly attributed to empathy), leaving everyone who watched the fight to respect their local pizza guy a little bit more (if that’s better than making pizzas, then how bad can making pizzas be?)
Sosa didn’t fare much better in his next fight, in a completely different way. Against former Olympic Gold Medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa, Sosa fought well, knocked Gamboa down in the seventh round, and lost a highly questionable majority decision, which had the crowd booing when the Cuban’s hand was raised. Since then, he has won two unanimous decisions over a couple of unheralded opponents.
While he has had a solid career, Sosa didn’t always want to be a boxer. He was a good football player that got injured, found himself lying on the couch not doing anything at age 20, walked into a boxing gym, and eventually became a world champion.
Rhodes is 27-3, with losses to Edner Cherry, Sergey Lipinets (in a fight some thought he won) and Omar Douglas. While Sosa became a boxer because (at 20) his life was going nowhere, Rhodes has a rather unorthodox path to the sport himself. Rhodes was a top-notch high school wrestler (he still says wrestling might be his favorite sport) and was training with Robbie Lawler and Matt Hughes to be an MMA fighter.
Because pro boxers like to take MMA fighters as early opponents (they don’t care if they lose since it’s not the sport they care about, but are good enough with their hands to put up a challenge) Rhodes made his pro debut on short notice, won, and kept winning so he decided he’d stick to being a boxer.
While that’s how Rhodes tells the story, it should be noted in his lone professional MMA fight, he was submitted with a triangle in just over a minute, so his submission defense likely played a role as well.
Either way, Carl Frampton’s hand injury has placed a couple of late starters into the main event spotlight on Saturday night, at a pivotal moment in their careers. And while “MMA fighter versus Pizza Cook” may sound like something out of a 1996 Toughman Competition, this weekend it’s a legitimate main event between two late bloomers looking towards an eventual title shot.
What: Robeisy Ramirez vs. Adan Gonzalez, 4 rounds, featherweights
When: Aug. 10
How to Watch: ESPN Plus 6:30 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because you’ll be able to say, “I knew him when,” once Ramirez becomes one of professional boxing’s elite.
On the complete opposite end of the amateur boxing spectrum from Sosa and Rhodes, we have Ramirez.
Name an elite, up and coming featherweight; somebody that Top Rank or Golden Boy have you convinced is the future of the sport, the next big thing, or an unstoppable wrecking machine destined for pound for pound greatness, and odds are, Ramirez has already beaten him. Shakur Stevenson? Yup, made him wear silver. Mick Conlan. Yup, no controversy about that fight. Oscar Negrete, Khalid Yafai and Andrew Selby? Yup, yup and yup.
Yes, after an amateur career that saw him win two Olympic Gold Medals, the 25-year-old Cuban defected from the National team and will be making his professional debut on Saturday, against Colorado’s Adnan Gonzalez. While the fight is only four rounds, and the outcome is not a question (Gonzalez is 4-2 as a professional), Ramirez’s stellar credentials (and relatively young age compared to most Cubans with lengthy amateur backgrounds) mean he will be a force, sooner rather than later in the professional ranks.
So, why not see how it all begins? Spend enough time on sports YouTube, and you’ll find highlight reels of Lebron James or Zion Williamson in high school. Why is it so fascinating to watch athletes before they were stars, showing just how vast the gap is between your town’s best athlete and one that is legitimately world class? I don’t know, but it is.
Like the music fan who says they knew about the band well before anyone else did, watch Ramirez on Saturday night to say you knew him when. You’ll be watching him on Saturdays in the future anyways.
What: Vergil Ortiz Jr. vs. Antonio Orozco, 10 rounds, welterweights
When: Aug. 10
How to Watch: Dazn 7 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because Golden Boy is putting perhaps their best young prospect in an incredibly dangerous fight, at a time when their most well-known prospect is still being coddled.
In many ways, Ryan Garcia has overshadowed Ortiz Jr. Garcia has the Instagram followers, the YouTube series and the throngs of both fans and critics hung on his every move, but Golden Boy Promotions has another young star who not nearly enough people are talking about.
So, while this week’s boxing news was dominated by talks about Garcia’s issues with how Golden Boy is handling his career, Ortiz Jr. is quietly taking on a massive challenge this weekend.
The 21-year-old, who is 13-0 with 13 knockouts, is facing Orozco. In 29 professional fights, Orozco has only one loss in his career (a decision to now WBC and WBO Super Lightweight champion Jose Ramirez), while in Orozco’s win column are names like Abner Lopez, Humberto Soto and an admittedly shot Steve Forbes.
While Golden Boy has been incredibly hesitant to let Garcia face somebody that could knock off their future cash cow (Avery Sparrow, really?) and took a huge blow when Oscar’s nephew Diego De La Hoya lost a few months ago, they’re tossing Ortiz into deep water and telling the young man that it’s time to sink or swim.
Is Golden Boy throwing away a golden goose by feeding a future champion to a distinguished veteran before he’s ready? Or, is it time for Oscar and his people to acknowledge that Ortiz is their real star, and that Garcia is the one that should be pushed to the backburner? On Saturday, we’ll find out.
What: Joshua Franco vs. Oscar Negrete, third fight, 10 rounds, bantamweights
When: Aug. 10
How to Watch: Dazn 7 p.m. ET
Why You Should Care: Because these guys will have fought three times in 10 months, and we need to see a clear-cut winner.
On Saturday, Joshua Franco and Oscar Negrete are going to fight each other for the third time in 10 months. That’s kind of crazy when you think about it, these guys fight each other more often than you’re supposed to go to the dentist.
While you’ll sometimes see fighters that compete against each other this often in small markets, where there aren’t enough guys in your weight class to face a new opponent, or in the 1940s when travel was difficult, these guys have been fighting on ESPN.
That means a couple of things. One, fights between the two are exciting enough that fans want to see them more often, and two, the matchup is close enough that we need to see who will win a third one.
Who has won these fights? Well, the first one was a draw and Franco won the second via split decision. However, the 32-year-old Negrete felt he was cheated in both fights. Either way, it’s hard to imagine that either fighter could have made any adjustments, to make this fight any less close than the first two were.
On Saturday, these two men will end their rivalry, but who will prove themselves the better man? Hopefully, on Saturday, we’ll find out. If not, we’ll see number four a few months from now.